According to Jodi O’Neill, program director for Ebenezer Child Care Centers, “The easiest way to expand children’s vocabulary is to simply talk directly to them starting at birth.”
O’Neill says that a parent’s conversations with their young children should include describing daily events and naming objects in their environment. Then, as the children grow, she says a parent’s descriptions can get more complex and descriptive to introduce new words into their vocabulary.
The Importance of Reading
O’Neill says reading is also a very effective way to introduce new vocabulary to children. She encourages parents to select five to seven books to read to their young children each week. She says to read and reread the same stories at least twice per day throughout the week. The repetition helps children learn new words.
As children learn to read, O’Neill says that it is still important to read to them, but that children also need to continue reading out loud to their parents.
“This offers the perfect opportunity for you to stop your children and ask them questions to make sure they are comprehending the reading material and understanding the meaning of new words that they read,” says O’Neill.
Other ways to expand children’s vocabulary through reading include attending library story times and author book readings at bookstores.
“Both are wonderful opportunities for children to learn a wide variety of words,” says O’Neill.
“O’Neill says it is important to encourage children’s speech with positive responses such as “Yes, that is a red flower” and then add a rephrase to expand on it such as “Let’s smell the red flower together.”
Other things you can do to expand children’s vocabulary include singing songs and reciting nursery rhymes and poems together. O’Neill says that when children are approximately three-years-old you can also play the alphabet and rhyming word games with them.
To play the alphabet game, start with the letter A. Name a word that starts with A. Then, ask your child to name a word that starts with B and so on. As children get older, you can make this more challenging by playing certain categories (for example name a fruit that starts with A, an animal that starts with B, etc.) or you can mix it up, so you ask for a word that ends with A, then ends with B, etc.
The rhyming words game is simple. You say a word, and your child says a word that rhymes with it. Start with three letter words such as cat, hop, and fan. Then, as your child becomes more confident with the rhyming game, choose longer words such as grain, chair, and bike.
Dramatic Play and Interacting with Others
O’Neill also says that you, as a parent, need to make sure that you are giving your children plenty of opportunities for dramatic play where they can use their imagination rather than have an idea presented to them as in television shows and video and computer games.
“Encourage your children to explain what they are trying to do during their creative play and take advantage of the opportunities to introduce new words to help them describe what they are trying to accomplish,” says O’Neill.
O’Neill also recommends making sure that your children have numerous opportunities to interact with children their age and slightly older.
“Children can learn a lot from their peers and such interactions are certain to help them to learn to express themselves in new ways,” O’Neill concludes.
Ebenezer Child Care Centers is a not-for-profit, locally based child care agency committed to providing early childhood programs from the heart.